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Archive for Sunday, June 23, 2002

FBI report details jump in U.S. crime

June 23, 2002

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— The number of major crimes in the United States increased in 2001 for the first time in a decade, bringing an end to a decline in violence that had resulted in the lowest crime levels in a generation, according to FBI statistics.

The increase included a 3.1 percent rise in murders reported by police departments nationwide, along with significant jumps in the numbers of robberies, burglaries and car thefts, according to the preliminary FBI survey, which was obtained by The Washington Post. Overall, major crimes in 2001 were up by 2 percent from the year before.

The national increase, outlined in an annual report to be released Monday by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, reverses nine years of declining crime numbers and is certain to fuel debates on Capitol Hill about proposed cuts in anti-crime measures.

The reversal comes amid budget pressures on many local police departments because of rapid declines in the tax revenues collected by state and local governments. In addition, the FBI which has been deeply involved in major narcotics and gang investigations is in the midst of a major reorganization that will result in less attention to traditional crimes in favor of thwarting terrorist attacks.

Many police chiefs and criminologists have warned that surges in the numbers of teenagers and released prisoners, along with recent economic declines, threatened a return to rising crime.

"We're probably done seeing declines in crime rates for some time to come," said Jack Riley, director of the Public Safety and Justice Program at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif. "The question is how strong and how fast will those rates be, and what kind of tools do we have at our disposal to get ahead of the curve."

The FBI survey doesn't provide details about specific suburbs, although crime reports in suburban areas overall were up 2.2 percent. Regionally, only the Northeast showed a crime drop. The largest increase was in Western states.

Deaths from the Sept. 11 attacks were excluded from the tallies. If those deaths were counted as homicides, the FBI said, the number of murders would have increased by 26 percent from 2000.

Criminologists are divided over what causes crime rates to increase, though most believe that economics and demographics play crucial roles. Riley and other crime experts said last year's resurgence can be explained at least in part by a stagnant economy.

Most of the increase was driven by jumps in various property crimes led by car thefts at 6 percent while the overall number of violent crimes rose by less than 1 percent.

But every category except aggravated assault showed an increase.

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